Weighing Frugality

I’m a saver by nature and frugal to the core. Figuring out ways to do things myself, stretch a product, or simply do without gives me a happy adrenaline rush most of the time.

My job doesn’t pay (at least not in dollars), but I like to think of the frugal things I do as stay-at-home mom as “earning” in savings.

But now that I am busy with four little children and homeschooling (and Joshua isn’t in school anymore), I need to weigh frugal choices a bit more carefully. I need to make sure they really are blessing my family and aren’t wearing me thin. So I’ve been asking myself two simple questions

  •  Is this frugal idea worth my time?
  • Do I genuinely enjoy this frugal practice? 

The internet is flooded with frugal ideas. But many of them simply aren't worth the time and effort. Here are two simple questions to ask when choosing your frugal adventures.

photo by Pontus Edenberg

Weigh Frugal Choices

Frugal practices that are worth the time investment

Much as I love being frugal, if I were to follow every single frugal idea out there, I’d wear myself thin. I cannot do it all. And I’ve come to realize that some frugal practices just aren’t worth the time.

To help me mentally balance whether a frugal practice would be worth doing, it’s helpful to establish a rough personal “base savings amount”, of $10 or $20 or X per hour. So in order for a frugal practice to be worth it, it needs to save roughly X dollars.

Once you’ve set your baseline, it’s pretty easy to evaluate frugal practices to see whether they save enough to make your time investment worthwhile.

Let’s look at packing a lunch. Unless it’s fast food, a decent lunch out averages more than $8. Multiply that by 5 weekdays, and you’re looking at $40.

A meat and cheese sandwich with a side costs less than $1.50, or $7.50 per week. It takes less than five minutes to throw together a lunch, but let’s just round up to half an hour for five lunches.

$40 minus $7.50 equals $32.50. That’s a savings of $32.50 per half hour or $65 per hour! Joshua often has lunch meetings, but the rest of the time I think it’s worth $65 an hour to pack him a lunch!

So for me, packing a lunch is worthwhile. But something like couponing is not. I tried couponing for a while when Joshua was in school, but once I factored in the time spent looking online for deals, printing coupons, and going to extra stores, I was saving way less than $10 per hour compared to just shopping at Aldi (my favorite store for many reasons).

There are so many choices we have to make: ironing vs. dry-cleaning, reuse vs. buy new, line-drying vs. dryer, homeschool vs. private school, DIY vs. hiring a professional, etc. Having a baseline savings amount and a rough estimate of what things save, helps me decide whether a frugal practice is worth my time in this busy stage of life.

Frugal practices that are just plain fun

Even if we were millionaires, there are some frugal things that I love doing so much that I’d want to do them anyway, like gardening, making homemade tortillas, and hanging sheets and blankets out to dry.

Technically, all of these things save some money, but based on savings alone, they may or may not be worthwhile. But I literally dream about gardening, think the taste of homemade tortillas is totally worth the effort, and adore the intoxicatingly fresh scent of line-dried linens.

The fact that these things happen to be frugal is just a side bonus. Each of these things are worthwhile to me because I love doing them.

If you try to implement every single frugal idea, you're going to be one worn-out Mom. Weigh your frugal choices to make sure they are worth your time and effort with these two simple questions.

Choose the frugal things that are worthwhile for your family

As Lisa Terkeurst said, doing everything doesn’t make us “wonder woman, it makes us a worn-out woman.” We can’t say yes to every frugal idea, because we’d be completely worn out. (And besides, one of the purposes of money is enjoyment).

Weigh your frugal choices and make sure that they are worth your time… or that you really love doing them.

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